$9.5 billion and $14 billion. These numbers represent the amount of money that was recently supplied to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commodity Credit Corporation to support the ag industry during the COVID-19 pandemic (American Farm Bureau Federation, 2020). This industry has been tremendously impacted during the virus outbreak due to the economic standings of the country and the increasing demand for products. However, many people do not seem to realize that while agriculture supplies a majority of the items on the grocery store shelves, the people working in the industry are not superhuman. They are still at risk just like everyone else around the globe.
In order to remain safe and healthy while supplying the world with the necessity of food, farmers, ranchers, and others in the ag industry are making many changes in their workplaces. There is a tree nursery near my home where I travel throughout the week to babysit one of the employee's daughters. As I was taking her for a walk in the stroller, I witnessed some of these changes. Employees were wearing masks as they worked diligently in the nursery. Other changes are highlighted in an article titled “Farmers Prioritize Worker Health and Safety” published by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The article states that some state branches of the Farm Bureau have “partnered with university Extension programs to create and distribute one-pagers on COVID-19 safety for farm workers”.
Some changes we are seeing in the ag industry are not beneficial, but rather detrimental. Employers are not often willing to risk hiring new employees who could expose other workers to the virus. However, many businesses rely on seasonal help from H2A workers. H2A is a program that “allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs” (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2020). Due to travel restrictions around the world, many of these seasonal employees are not able to arrive in the states until late summer, or may be kept from arriving at all. This poses a large problem for agricultural employers hoping to keep up with the U.S. demands.
An increasing demand that agriculturalists have faced is in regards to the food bank. Many people have become unemployed during the COVID-19 quarantine period, and families are struggling to put food on the table. A USDA-run voucher system has been proposed to combat this issue and would “allow farmers and ranchers to work directly with food banks to get farm-fresh products quickly to families in need, while also preventing food waste and helping farmers recoup some of their production costs at a time when they are fighting to hold on” (American Farm Bureau Federation, 2020).
Although the ag industry is struggling during the pandemic, agriculturalists are still doing their best to provide for the world. Next time you step into the grocery store and witness all of the low-stocked shelves, I encourage you to think about the effort that is being put in to ensure that there are still products for purchase. Let’s all take a little time to appreciate and support those in the industry that supports our basic needs.
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